Some people find the idea of surveillance via the Internet pretty scary, but others are saying, "Bring it on." In fact, they're tailing themselves.
Take Toledo, Ohio's "hamtime," for example. At 10:06 am, February 10, hamtime left his home. He drove up the coast of Lake Erie and stopped somewhere along Interstate 96 for lunch, passed through Ann Arbor at 3 and was home by 5. Such is the riveting narrative I can glean from hamtime's location post at www.mologogo.com.
Mologogo provides an online forum for people to post their movements or, more accurately, the movements of their cellphones, for their friends to check out 24 hours a day.
This kind of voluntary surveillance has been hot in South Korea for years. In 2000, SK Telecom introduced Find Friends, a tracking service that lets users check online for their partners and friends. Skeptics thought the idea too Orwellian to take off, but to date more than 4 million Koreans have signed up for such services.
Mologogo runs exclusively on GPS-enabled phones like Nextel (Sprint) that come with an interface designed to visualize location data with little coloured flags representing people crawling around a GoogleMaps version of your city. So if you're sitting at a café about to order a sandwich, you can check your Blackberry for little blue flags to see who's in the neighbourhood to set up an impromptu lunch date.
Mologogo also keeps a log of your movements, even allowing users to search through a database of your activities for patterns and favourite haunts. While this might be useful to the cops on Law & Order and allow the formation of automatic alibis, most people are a little creeped out by the idea of having their location tracked 24/7.
Anonymity is one of things I like best about wandering the city, and the idea of broadcasting my location online, self-controlled or not, smacks of Big Brother. However, some aspects of the idea of location-tracking through IT have been integral to social movements.
One of the trends to emerge from this idea of geographic-based communication is the flash mob. A flash mob is a spontaneous gathering of people organized through the instantaneous communicative power of cellphones and Internet technology.
Last November during the riots in France, mobile phone users sent messages to one another to create gatherings of people that stayed one step ahead of the police.
During the impeachment of Philippine president Joseph Estrada in early 2001, within hours of the trial's collapse hundreds of thousands of protestors gathered in front of the presidential palace through the exponential spread of text-message alerts.
Mologogo's graphics allow users to follow the cluster of flags to protests, spontaneous meetings in parks, even a hot art gallery opening.
One of the original people-tracking sites is Dodgeball (www.dodgeball.com), where cellphones are used to network people across 22 different cities in the U.S. Instead of providing automatic surveillance, Dodgeball allows users to weave a social network that looks and functions more like Friendster or Myspace. Users can invite their contacts within a certain radius to locations by sending text messages accompanied by profile photos.
Late last year, Google acquired Dodgeball, anticipating a new wave of demand for location-specific applications. Imagine visiting a new neighbourhood and checking GoogleMaps to see where the scenesters are congregating, or looking at the locations on your block that have been visited most in the past week.
Just last month, Myspace.com announced it was teaming up with SK Telecom to give members access to their Myspace networks site through specially designed cellphones, following the Dodgeball model of allowing users to communicate with online contacts in real as well as virtual space.
Just when you thought the Internet had co-opted every last aspect of human nature, know that your location is yet another aspect of yourself you can post with pride online.